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Many students want to be native-like speakers. I think that is the goal most English learners have.

A focus on pronunciation and intonation is clearly needed with that purpose, but we should bear in mind that one is not a native speaker, and differences will appear sooner or later. (I’ve once heard a student with a really nice British accent using American English vocabulary and slang…)

First of all, every native speaker has an accent of his own, which shows not only where is he from, but also his background information, his educational level and other personal characteristics.

Living in a multilingual world, one may argue that second language speakers should retain their native accent, unless it interferes with correct pronunciation patterns, because one’s identity is highly represented by accent. Being able to convey meaning through clear and correct pronunciation and intonation is what we should really care about.

What I guess can be done, is to improve one’s pronunciation and intonation to what would be the standards of the target language, but without focusing on any particular accent (except, let’s say, that you are going to live in a certain community where you will be using language 24/7)

The best way to improve one’s accent and pronunciation, is, by far, being exposed to the language one wants to acquire. So, depending on the context you are living in, perhaps you can meet some native speakers of the language, you can watch films, or you just can listen to some songs in the target language. Don’t miss any opportunity to use the language. Classes with a focus on pronunciation are not really frequent, but they are really interesting and useful.

Be curious: The internet is full of material on pronunciation of different languages. (Some days ago I added a really long list of English Pronunciation teaching and learning websites).

Up to now, I’ve posed my opinion and thoughts.. but what about some theory?

According to Krashen,

The Monitor hypothesis explains the relationship between acquisition and learning and defines the influence of the latter on the former. The monitoring function is the practical result of the learned grammar. According to Krashen, the acquisition system is the utterance initiator, while the learning system performs the role of the ‘monitor’ or the ‘editor’. The ‘monitor’ acts in a planning, editing and correcting function when three specific conditions are met: that is, the second language learner has sufficient time at his/her disposal, he/she focuses on form or thinks about correctness, and he/she knows the rule.
It appears that the role of conscious learning is somewhat limited in second language performance. According to Krashen, the role of the monitor is – or should be – minor, being used only to correct deviations from ‘normal’ speech and to give speech a more ‘polished’ appearance.
Krashen also suggests that there is individual variation among language learners with regard to ‘monitor’ use. He distinguishes those learners that use the ‘monitor’ all the time (over-users); those learners who have not learned or who prefer not to use their conscious knowledge (under-users); and those learners that use the ‘monitor’ appropriately (optimal users). An evaluation of the person’s psychological profile can help to determine to what group they belong. Usually extroverts are under-users, while introverts and perfectionists are over-users. Lack of self-confidence is frequently related to the over-use of the ‘monitor’.
*

What does this mean? If we are obsessed with our pronunciation and we insist on getting a native-like pronunciation, frustration is really likely to appear, what may lead to not being able to communicate in the target language neither fluently or correctly.

So, go on practicing and get a nice and clear pronunciation. Check the meanings of the different intonation patterns. But don’t get obsessed with this. I am sure that if you are self-confident and proud of your identity, native speakers will understand you and congratulate you for your accent.

More information on Krashen’s Five Hypothesis

A Critique on krashen’s Monitor Hypothesis

* Taken from here

Krashen, Stephen D. Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition.  Prentice-Hall International, 1987.
Krashen, Stephen D. Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning.  Prentice-Hall International, 1988.
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{November 12, 2008}   Extra Reading

If you have some minutes to spare, read chapter XV from Civics and Health, a book written by William H. Allen in 1909 – almost 100 years ago. I found it really interesting and was amazed at the author’s choice of words.

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As it is introduced in Chest of Books,

No one can read this volume, or even its chapter-headings, without surprise and rejoicing: surprise, that the physical basis of effective citizenship has hitherto been so utterly neglected in America; rejoicing, that so much in the way of the prevention of incapacity and unhappiness can be so easily done, and is actually beginning to be done. The gratitude of every lover of his country and his kind is due to the author for his interesting and vivid presentation of the outlines of a subject fundamental to the health, the happiness, and the well-being of the people, and hence of the first importance to every American community, every American citizen.

More information on this book:

Many Books

Archive

Amazon



{November 12, 2008}   End-of-Year is Here!

Classes in Argentina are finishing in a month approximately.
Are you preparing something special for those last classes? Do you need to prepare an end-of-year presentation?

A great end of the year activity is to put on a little play on a topic chosen by the students. Last year, the institute where I work organized an end-of-year musical party. My 1st Children (1st level) students decided they wanted to recreate a choreography for “Do, Re, Mi”, the well known song from the Sound of Music.

This 2008 end-of-year situation is really special for me and I decided to prepare something special for my students. I don’t like very much to work on the language itself during the last classes, relying mostly on context based or game-like activities.

One great idea I got from this site is to create a class magazine or newspaper.
In this case, 8th grade students will choose a topic each and write a short text about it. They will create comics, riddles and crosswords too! Then, after checking students’ productions, we type everything up and we get a printed version of the newspaper. We generally charge a minimum of $ 0.25 for each copy of the newspaper (to account for paper and copy expenses)

For 9th grade students, as they are finishing a level of studies, I thought that they could write their autobiopgraphies.
Writing 5-8 sentences, they will have to leave a message for younger students at school. These autobiographies will be part of a Book of Class Record, made up with pictures and activities (For instance, when working on comparatives and superlatives I devised a nice activity where students had to choose the “most” student – “the one with the nicest smile, the fastest runner, the tallest, etc- and they had to draw a picture of each of the chosen classmates) collected throughout the year.
Students will design the cover of the book for one of their mates (chosen at random!) Each student will get one copy of this the day of their graduation.

The most difficult group to choose a final activity is 7th grade. They knew almost no English at the beginning of the year, and they had difficulties in most subjects.
So, what I think will be really funny, is to make them feel they are professional writers. I will take a bunch of binded sheets of legal size papers, with a cover reading “Yeah! I survived 7th Year! Read to see HOW“.
Each student will be asked to write a sentence on how the year went for them. When it’s finished, we’ll read each sentence and reflect on what we did this year.

Basing on what is proposed here I decided to prepare a last-class picnic for my 1st Children students, where they will receive a diploma and a beautiful card with a poem:

end-of-year
My 4th Grade students will work on a Teacher Report Card, where they will be the teachers for one hour, and I will be their student. I will tell them that I would like to see what they think about me, so children next year can have a teacher that improved her practices thanks to other students.  Then, I will provide my version of what a teacher’s report card would look like (I’m trying to upload it!) and I’ll tell them they have to grade me and that they can leave a message for me, either in English or in Spanish.

What do you think about my choice of activities? Would you work with them the same way? What would you change? Would you like to share your end-of-year classroom ideas? Comment down here.



{November 12, 2008}   English VS Spanish

It is known that learning English as a second language is easier than learning Spanish as a second language too, because of the difficulties Spanish has as regards verb tenses for example. Also, I know of many English speakers having difficulties with the Spanish sound system.

Some may argue that English is more difficult, because of the so many rules, exceptions and the differences in pronunciation.

My question is: Do children in English Speaking Countries learn Spanish compulsory at school? When do they start learning it?



{November 11, 2008}   Classroom Ideas

If you are lucky enough to have a classroom just for yourself, check this site. I got some really nice ideas from it!

  • The way you decorate your classroom can motivate or demotivate students! So add colourful posters (those hand made are highly praised by students!), a cultural board with information about English speaking countries, put English materials such as books and dictionaries, display student work. Classroom language and Useful Expressions are a must in all language learning classrooms. Students really like looking at their past work, so make them proud of their work by  decorating  your classroom with it. This will not only motivate students but will also foster their interest in learning the language.
  • A nice idea is to leave a red mailbox (ok, I’m not that crafty, but it shouldn’t be so difficult tthinko make and your students will love it!) for students to leave suggestions and messages.
  • Add a graffiti wall (or a cardboard poster if you want a cheaper version) outside or at the back of the classroom – in this site, they differenciate the boards between a temporary one – a blackboard – and a permanent board – the one made from paper. Check their suggestions!

  • Leave notes in a bulletin board outside your classroom or at its door. Notes can be either in English or in the students’ native language. They can be about topics the students are working on, or just on general information. Use them to foster communication! You can find many great ideas here.
  • Something I find really useful is educational emailing. If your students are old enough to use an email account, you can send them interesting material to read, extra work (they love working on computers!) or summaries on various topics. In previous posts here you can see that I send them lots of information or links of websites where they can find activities, texts and extra material on the topics they are working with.
  • Have a camera ready to capture students work! If you are allowed to take pictures in class, you can create lots of picture collage boards for your classroom – so when parents come to visit you they can see how students work! With my younger students, I create a blog where we share pictures with parents and relatives. They simply love watching their pictures on the net!
  • Leave a “big reading notebook” in your classroom. My students love reading stories, so we created a big book out of cardboard and legal paper, where they record information about the books they read (author, characters, main ideas). This is really useful to incentivate reading in young students!

Of course many of this ideas can be adapted to shared classrooms too! (I’m not so lucky – in some schools I share my classroom with other teachers – but I still can leave at least a graffity board and some posters made by the students hanging on a wall)

* Adapted from Raegina Taylor‘s ideas. Enlarged from personal experience.



{November 10, 2008}   Teaching English

I came across this video while having a look at crazyesl.

Enjoy it!



This last month was terrible for my annual plannification. At the institute I work, there were parties, movie watching classes and now, today, there is a Nations Fair.

It’s not that I don’t like taking part in this kind of events, but just by looking at the calendar, I’m starting to go crazy. We have 5 weeks left and I still have to introduce one more topic, make the corresponding final exam practice and, if there’s nothing new to add, by December 17th my little chickens will learn to fly.

What is the problem? I asked if we could choose whether to participate or not, and I was told it was compulsory. Not only had I worked more hours at home than expected (preparing leaflets, some snacks for visitors) but I also had to make parents work at home preparing material with their children. In my opinion, it’s really nice to participate in such events, but, thinking about it twice, I would add:

*It’s not the time of the year for such an event – guys, I don’t work just there, I’ve got tons of work to do from everywhere (and the other teachers too).

*What’s the point of having students investigate about a NON English speaking country (not my case) when they go to an institute to learn English? Having such an amount of English Speaking countries in the world… why do we have to choose countries only from America?

*The idea of this fair was a copy of what other institute did last year. I know that people are not that original, but I’ve got to thank them not to tell us about the fair two weeks before the event, like they did last year with the end of the year rehearsal (Oh, yeah, I went crazy then).

*This kind of events should be organized from the very beginning of the year, by the headmistress/headmaster of the institution and they should be in charge of all extra work, to avoid overwhelming teachers with extra work they have not time to do. It’s just that I could hardly sleep 5 hours a day this last week to avoid leaving things unprepared. And being tired all day long is not what I want. I want to enjoy my classes.

So, now, as I have some more minutes to spare, I take a deep breath and think if I prepared everything:
americ_g
-work for those children who were last week – ready
-thank you notes for visitors – ready
-snacks – ready
-big book (oh, my kids did such a nice work!!) – ready
-videos – ready

I guess I’m ready for the event of the day.

*”the pig and the twenty” refers to an Argentinian proverb (“la chancha, los veinte y la máquina de hacer chorizos”) where it’s stated that someone wants everything without effort or money.



{November 9, 2008}   Free Rice

Some days ago, I came across a really nice site called Free Rice. This, provided, at first, just vocabulary practice in English, but now there are several foreign language options (as well as other subject
areas, too) What is really interesting about this site, is that for each answer you get right, 20 grains of rice are donated to the United Nations World Food Program.

Check this site out just clicking on the language you want to practice:

English Spanish French German Italian

rice-man01



{November 9, 2008}   Thanksgiving in the classroom

It’s well-known that we generally don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in the classroom as it is a religious holiday (or at least the idea of thanking god it’s religion-related)

But couldn’t we just make some kind of activities to show students how one of the most important celebrations in the US takes place? I guess that if we handle the topic really carefully, we can share lots of wonderful activities with our students.

A personal idea I hope to make a reality this year

is to organize a kind of “open class” where parents will be invited to share group activities with the children. (Hope I can do this, too much events this year made me go nuts with my year planning)

As Thanksgiving is not a celebration here in Argentina, I’ve looked for material on the topic – and I must say that there are tons and tons of interesting texts, activities and resources to teach your students about this cultural celebration. Some of them I list here:

How Thanksgiving Works

Thanksgiving History

Thanksgiving 2008 – resources, information and everything you need to celebrate Thanksgiving

History.Com – tons of information and resources on this holiday

Teacher Planet

Thanksgiving Resources on the Web for Educators 1

Thanksgiving Resources on the Web for Educators 2

Kiddy House – all about thanksgiving for kids and teachers

USA Official Website

Thanksgiving Resources

Family Education

Teaching Heart

Teachers First

Kiddy House

Teacher Help

Thanksgiving Resources @ Local Homeschool.com

101 Kidz

Adopt a Turkey

Thanksgiving Resources and Lesson Plans

Thanksgiving Activities for the Elementary Classroom

Flint Public Library

Thanksgiving

The Holiday Zone

Thanksgiving and Pilgrims
Hope you find this useful!



All of us know that speaking a language is not easy when you come to the pronunciation of sounds that are not part of your native language’s sound system.

Students – and teachers too – need to practice each sound in isolation, in different contexts, until they understand its articulation and its use. (I still remember going to Susan’s lab classes to have extra practice with her because I loved her pronounciation!)

I love to work with the Pronunciation Power sofware for personal practice, but when it comes to students, I usually give them some activities in class and some websites to practice at home. In any case, teachers should bear in mind that it’s really difficult to acquire every single sound correctly, so don’t make your students hate the English language. Teach them wisely and they’ll acquire a pronounciation of English that will be accepted as very good.

Here are some interesting sites:

HowJSay is an excellent site to clear out doubts on the spot;

Phonemic Chart (presented here in earlier posts) is excellent to introduce the different sounds in isolation:

Research and practice websites on pronunciation

Online Phonetic Resources

ESL-Galaxy

Practicing Pronunciation with Sandpaper Letters is ideal to help children acquire the right pronunciation:

OMPersonal

Fonetiks

Ship or Sheep (yes, like the book!) provides practice through minimal pairs:

English Media Lab provides lots of exercises for pronunciation and intonation practice:

Dictations online is a great help for the student teacher if he/she is asked to write phonemic transcriptions in his phonetics and phonology exams (I can’t forget my mates’ faces when in Laura’s first classes):

The Tongue Twister Data Base is really nice to practice particular sounds:

Vowels in American Englishl

Vowels in British English

Vowels Linguistics Courses Resource

Phonetic Symbols and their Corresponding Pronunciation

Demonstration of How Phonetic Symbols are Pronounced (Audio)

More Exercises on Vowels

Guide to English Phonetic Symbols

Transcription Exercises

Consonants

Using Transcription Symbols from Written Input

Articulation Exercise

Manner of Articulation Exercise

American Phonetic Notation

Phonetic Transcription Exercise (without audio)

Problems with some Symbols

Garatu Links offers a link collection with lots and lots of material to practice

Phonetics: The Sounds of English and Spanish presents flash animations with the sounds of both languages.

Phonetic Flash

Phonetics  – The sounds of American English

American Vowels

American Vowel Chart

BBC English Vowels

The ASCII Phonetic Alphabet

Introduction of Phonetic Transcription

Demonstration of Phonetic Transcription

Oxford Guide to English Phonetic Symbols

Place of Articulation – Excercises

Phonetics

Australian English Phonetics

Translating Symbols

Varieties of American English

Reading and Producing Phonemic Transcription

Web Resources – Phonetics

Resources for Teaching Pronunciation

More Speaking Resources

Ted Power’s choice of Resources

The Speech Accent Archive

Phonemic Transcription Exercises

Words for Transcription

Names of Phonetic Symbols

Name of Symbols

Reading and Producing English Phonemic Transcriptions

Phonics and Phonetics Worksheets for kids in English-4-Kids – don’t miss the videos and the online extra practice sites, they’re wonderful!

*The choice of the title is a phrase from one of my practices at the phonetics lab in UNMDP – the original pronunciation was SO funny  (“so” is here pronounced like Stewie Griffin’s “so”) I will never forget it. (If I found my cassettes –yeah, we are oldies haha– I´ll upload the sound!)

-Sorry if I repeated some links, they were all in my bookmarks and it’s really difficult to remember all links I pasted here!



et cetera